Celluloid Colony: Locating History and Ethnography in Early Dutch Colonial Films of Indonesia
by Sandeep Ray
How should colonial film archives be read? How can historians and ethnographers use colonial film as a complement to conventional written sources? Sandeep Ray uses the case of Dutch colonial film in Indonesia to show how a critically-, historically- and cinematically-informed reading of colonial film in the archive can be a powerful and unexpected source, and one more easily accessible today via digitisation.
The language of film and the conventions and forms of non-fiction film were still in formation in the first two decades of the 20th century. Colonialism was one of the drivers of this development, as the picturing of the native "other" in film was seen as an important tool to build support for missionary and colonial efforts. While social histories of photography in non-European contexts have been an area of great interest in recent years; Celluloid Colony brings moving images into the same scope of study.
"This is a strikingly original approach to history, not least in Southeast Asian Studies.... The book skilfully navigates problems of ‘objectivity’ by illuminating how the intentions of colonial administrators, corporations, and missionaries produced visual documents of power in operation. Ray’s is a passionate defence of how we might glimpse the lives of ordinary Indonesians through the moving colonial image."
– Adrian Vickers, University of Sydney
"Celluloid Colony is of as much interest to the historians of cinema as to the historians of colonialism. While its subject matter is relatively narrow-- Dutch documentary films about ‘the Indies’--it successfully argues a much larger case for the inclusion of documentary cinema as a source of historical knowledge."
– Krishna Sen, University of Western Australia
Sandeep Ray is senior lecturer of Southeast Asian history at the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences department of the Singapore University of Technology and Design where he also heads the Non-Fiction Film Lab.
Meet Sandeep in discussion on the book with film scholar Thomas Barker and film archivist Lisabona Rahman.
Publication year: 2021
232pp / 229 x 152mm
49 b/w illustrations